Multiple Sclerosis and mood swings
Everyone is liable to the odd mood swing from time to time. Situations grind us down, sugar rushes get us high and hormones can send us on a rollercoaster ride.
But when you have multiple sclerosis, mood swings take on a bigger significance.
Mood swings are an MS symptom
Living with any kind of chronic illness can be emotionally difficult. It’s natural to go through peaks and troughs as you come to terms with your diagnosis. One day you may be content and happy, and the next, you’re raging at how unfair everything feels. That’s totally normal.
But mood swings are actually a common symptom of the condition.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the productive covering of nerves in the central nervous system. That can affect your brain, spinal cord and optic nerves and cause a host of different symptoms - physical and emotional.
The connection between the physical damage caused by MS and emotional disturbance isn’t often spoken about. That’s probably because there are so many obvious physical symptoms associated with it; it’s easy to identify a change in bowel habits or mobility but it’s slightly harder to pinpoint mental health developments.
It doesn’t matter how severe your MS is, anyone can experience a significant mood swing but it is worth bearing in mind that if nerve damage is causing emotional imbalance, these incidents may become more frequent as your condition progresses.
MS-related mental health problems fall into two categories: issues caused by nerve damage and psychological reactions to MS. Different parts of the brain control different reactions and the frontal lobe is responsible for controlling emotions and how we express them.
Nerve damage to that part of the brain can affect how you feel, react or behave. It doesn’t matter what your personality is or was like before your condition became more prevalent - any damage to the frontal lobe will change how you think and feel.
Mood swings can come and go on their own or be linked to bigger umbrella mental health issues like depression. Up to 50% of MS patients experience depression at some point - that’s three times higher than the general population.
While it might seem natural to develop depression in response to dealing with a new normal, it’s only recently been accepted that depression is actually a reaction to the inflammation caused by MS. Patients with relapsing-remitting MS may experience depression as a result of the inflammation process but experts believe that negative thoughts can be more severe as secondary-progressive MS takes hold - and that could be more of a reaction to changing circumstances.
Other mental health issues that can arise from MS include anxiety, pseudobulbar affect (uncontrollable emotional outbursts apropos of nothing), euphoria, and disinhibition. MS lesions can disrupt your self-control, causing unbalanced reactions and these kinds of symptoms tend to be worse during an MS relapse.
Some medications prescribed to treat MS can also contribute to depression, including steroids, muscle relaxants and some disease-modifying drugs.
Being diagnosed and living with a condition like MS can take its toll on both patients and carers. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed, anxious, angry or frightened. There’s no right or wrong way to feel - the only important thing is that you have access to support for when the going seems too tough.
While mood swings can be a symptom of a more chronic issue like depression, on the whole, mood swings come and go and may resolve themselves.
How to cope
Acknowledge your moods
It sounds simple but it’s important to acknowledge mood swings and come to terms with the fact that you may go through severe ups and downs as you learn to manage your condition. Try to accept that some days or weeks may feel rough or that you’re likely to experience disproportionate feelings towards situations. None of this is your fault.
Talk to someone
As with any mental health issue, it’s always best to talk to your close friends and family. If you don’t have a network around you already, many MS charities have free hotlines and local support groups where you can chat with MS experts and patients. The benefit of opening up isn’t just to make you feel better and less alone, it’s also about making sure that everyone around you is on the same page. They’ll know an outburst isn’t personal or necessarily a long-term feeling if you’ve explained to them what you’re going through. If you remain silent, however, it’s harder for people who don’t have a lot of experience of MS to empathise. You’re not alone.
See your GP or MS team
Your GP can help advise you on the best ways to treat or navigate your mood swings. They might suggest trying certain talking therapies, medications or non-medical interventions. If your mood swings or depression are linked to the medication you’re taking, your GP or MS team can review it.
For more information on mental health and MS, join the myMS support programme today!
Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.
Information written by the talkhealth team
Last revised: 10 June 2020
Next review: 10 June 2023